Judging by the artist’s age, 16, when he painted this galloping rider, talent is not a matter of years.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), Jeune cavalier enfourchant sa monture (A Galloping Young Horseman), oil on panel, 23.5 x 13.7 cm (9.26 x 5.4 in).
Toulouse-Lautrec's early works are few and his paintings of horsemen rare. This small piece, unsigned but with an incised black monogram and two studies of faces on the back, was in French perfumer Jacques Guerlain’s collection. Born into an aristocratic family, Toulouse-Lautrec enjoyed riding and hunting. Like his father and uncles, he also loved to draw. When an incurable bone disease afflicted him, he overcame it by plunging into art, receiving his first lessons from René Princeteau, a talented animal painter and friend of his father’s. No longer able to ride, he showed his fondness for horses by painting and drawing them. Like his teacher, he depicted galloping equines but already stood out for his free-flowing style, original compositions, brisk strokes and way of getting straight to the point.
In summer 1878, military maneuvers were held near the family château, Bosc, in Aveyron of South West France. This inspired Artilleur sellant son cheval (Gunner Saddling His Horse), now in the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in Albi, as well as small wooden panels and around 20 India ink drawings to illustrate a manuscript of children’s tales by his friend Étienne Devismes.
Here, Toulouse-Lautrec displays his talent for depicting horse morphology. The animal’s powerful hindquarters contrast with the rider’s slender shape and acrobatic poise. The sense of observation he demonstrates here foreshadows the characteristic humor of his future work in Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec was enthralled by speed, galloping horses and sprinting riders. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that in the mid-1890s Frantisek Kupka, the future painter of form and movement, came to see the man who had freed the image from immobility.